Seven cities in 10 days: Part 7

If you’re just joining us, you might want to check out Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 first. Or, just use the “by subject” pull-down menu to your right (you’ll find a category titled “Seven cities in 10 days”).

Esteban and I are a bit weary of the crowds in Florence, so we get up early for an impromptu trip to the Tuscan “hill town” of San Gimignano.

Day 7: Saturday, September 22, 2007

We got up early and went to the Bar Fibbi for breakfast. Italian coffee is among the most exquisite in the world. This morning’s cup was rich enough to pass for my breakfast, while E fortified himself on bacon and eggs.

Fully sated, we set off for the bus terminal. It was wedged into an improbably small building, so we walked right past it twice. Inside, it reminded me of a converted auto-repair shop. There was just enough room for a couple of buses to pull around, pick up passengers, and pull back out.

Our bus to San Gimignano was 40 minutes late. (“In ritardo.” The national motto.) The crowd grew too large to fit on one bus. Esteban and I paced nervously as another 20 minutes passed and more people arrived, but the locals looked nonplussed. Mostly they smoked, talked on their cellphones, and gestured.

Finally a bus pulled in, followed immediately by another. Esteban and I opted for the second bus — the “express” route — and climbed in behind a lady so steeped in cologne I could taste it. I immediately felt nauseated.

I tried to distract myself with the sights. The driver’s skill was impressive. On several occasions, we came within an inch of oncoming vehicles. But, miraculously, we snaked our way through the streets of Florence without a scratch.

I saw one of the ancient city gates go past us as the bus started to pick up speed. We were off to the countryside. Esteban and I dozed a bit over the next hour.

We woke up in earnest when the bus lurched to a halt. It had pulled up to a tiny station in an equally tiny town, some sixty miles from where we’d started. Everyone got off but us.

I mustered my best Italian and approached the driver. Aren’t we on the bus to San Gimignano? Yes, he said. Please get off and wait for the connection. With that, he and the bus were gone.

E and I went into the station. The interior reminded me of the coffee counter at an old Woolworth’s, except for the faint smell of salami and diesel. Esteban bought us a Pepsi and a sandwich. We milled around aimlessly, wondering where we were.

Twenty minutes later a bus spontaneously appeared. As if on cue, everyone got up and marched in unison to the curb. We were back on the road.

It took another hour to get into the heart of Tuscany. The landscape was dotted with villas and cypress trees, and the vineyards stretched in every direction. There are no words to describe the beauty and serenity of this place.

The bus turned onto a gravel road. The cloud of dust that surrounded us must have been visible for miles. Through the dust, I could see a walled city built on a hill off in the distance. San Gimignano!

… Stepping into this city was like stepping back in time. Everything — from the cobbled streets to the crooked houses — looked like it hadn’t been touched in centuries. And everything was covered in dust.

The main street was lined with shops selling the gamut from pottery to taxidermy. Esteban stopped to look at a case of ornate knives while I considered a giant stuffed boar. We laughed about trying to get them through security. Another impulsive purchase thwarted by the Patriot Act.

… After four hours of roaming, the shadows started getting long. It was time to go.

We went back out to the bus stop and waited twenty minutes. The crowd thickened as we were joined by a group of unruly teenagers. When the bus arrived, everyone crowded on. But it didn’t budge. It was getting stuffy and hot. After five minutes, Esteban and I followed a few deserters and abandoned ship.

From the outside, we could see that one of the doors had been pulled off its hinges. The driver finally succeeded in repairing it, and the bus roared off without us.

Another bus came along soon enough. Unfortunately, it was not the “express” we’d taken to get there. For two and a half hours, we stopped at the slightest evidence of human habitation. I tried to stay awake and savor the experience, but my eyelids were too heavy. Esteban woke me up as we arrived in Florence. We walked in darkness back to the hotel.

Here are some photos of our foray into beautiful Tuscany:


Tomorrow will be our last day in Florence. Already overwhelmed by the noise and crowds, we’re a bit apprehensive about what awaits us in Rome. Will we freak out and flee? Or will we settle in happily among the locals? Stay tuned!

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